Suprise Attack- Tet Offensive Essay, Research Paper
Shortly after midnight on January 31, 1968, nineteen members of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF)–better known to the world as Vietcong (VC)–secretly assembled in a garage about five blocks away from the American Embassy in Saigon. They sat huddled together in silence, cleaning and oiling their weapons, listening to final instructions from their leaders on their forthcoming commando-style operation. Tet is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It is celebrated on the night between Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. The president of South Vietnam, President Nguyen Thieu suggested a cease-fire, and communist General Vo Nguyen Giap readily accepted it. But, a general offensive and a general uprising was about to take place. The communist leaders were planning a surprise attack. The 1968 Tet Offensive sparked future battles, helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War, and helped the U.S. gain a huge win over the communists. General Vo Nguyen Giap was an extreme nationalist. Ho Chi Minh, one of Vietnam s communist leaders, taught Giap. Minh taught Giap about the Vietnamese war hero Emperor Quang Trung. During the 1789 Tet holidays, Trung let his troops celebrate a day early. Then, on Tet, Trung s troops attacked and drove their hated enemy, the Chinese, out of their land. Gen. Giap had a statue of Emperor Quang Trung in his courtyard. The statue stood as a silent reminder of the earlier 1789 Tet Offensive. Gen. Giap had ordered that a poem by Ho Chi Minh be broadcast over Radio Hanoi. The poem read: This Spring far outshines the previous Springs, Of victories throughout the land come happy tidings. Let the North and South emulate each other in fighting the U.S. Aggressors! Forward! Total victory will be ours. Following the poem was an explanation for the upcoming assaults on South Vietnamese and American forces. It was said that the general offensive and general uprising was meant to restore power to the people. The order also mentioned that Tet would be the greatest battle fought in the history of the country. It will bring worldwide changes, but will also require many sacrifices. The final message of the broadcast stated that this offensive would begin at 0135 on Jan. 30. The U.S. and South Vietnamese possessed many pieces of evidence of the upcoming Tet strike. The problem was that U.S. and ARVN (South Vietnamese) personnel did not use the evidence efficiently. One U.S. intelligence officer recalled, If we d gotten the whole battle plan, it wouldn t have been believed. It wouldn t have been credible to us. One piece of evidence was a captured attack order. The order stressed strong military attacks used in conjunction with local uprisings. The document also instructed VC forces to move toward the capital city, Saigon, take power, and try to rally enemy (U.S. and South Vietnamese) over to the communist cause. Finally, it said to disperse propaganda and enlist as many soldiers as possible. This order should have informed the U.S. and the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam, or ARVN, that a massive attack was being conceived. But instead, U.S. officials believed that the order was simply enemy propaganda, intended to raise NVA and VC troop morale. Therefore, when the document was published, it failed to draw serious attention. Another piece of evidence that proved a large-scale attack was coming up was the interception of two recorded messages. The tapes were found on two of the eleven VC leaders holding a secret meeting. The messages, which were to be used for radio broadcast, announced the liberation of Saigon, Hue, and other South Vietnamese cities. The recordings also called for the people to take up arms against the South Vietnamese government. Again, military intelligence officers disregarded this evidence. The final piece of evidence was the attack at Khe Sanh. An enemy force of between 15,000 and 20,000 troops launched an all-out attack on the marines at Khe Sanh on Jan. 21. The U.S. and ARVN forces all believed that this attack was the general offensive or general offensive . But, this siege at Khe Sanh was no where near the size of the real Tet Offensive. On the day before the beginning of the Tet holidays, VC forces launched an attack on government buildings and military compounds in 7 cities. Mortar fire, rockets, and small-arms fire ripped through Nha Trang, Ban Me Thuot, Kontum, Hoi Nan, Da Nang, Qui Hhon, and Pleiku. Even though U.S. and ARVN forces expected this large-scale attack, the communist assault gained total tactical surprise. As soon as Gen. Westmoreland heard news of the attacks, he ordered all U.S. forces to full alert and warned President Thieu of the sudden danger. Thieu canceled only half of the ARVN troops leaves. He did not want to cancel all of the leaves and risk causing morale to suffer. Thieu did not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation. In fact, Thieu was in My Tho spending Tet with his wife s family. The full force of Giap s general offensive and general uprising erupted like a long-dormant volcano one night, beginning on Jan. 30 and ending on the 31st. Explosions could be heard throughout the land. VC troops flowed through the streets like streams of boiling lava. Everything in their way was destroyed. No lives were sparred. The killers swept through cities, towns, and villages killing with no remorse. The troops threw grenades into schoolhouses, sometimes killing 30 children at a time. There were more then 84,000 communist fighters attacking 36 provincial capitals, 5 large cities, 64 district capitals, and 23 airfields or bases. Back in the U.S., the media was showing pictures and doing stories about how horrible the fighting was. This did not help the troops because many people began to protest and rebel. One of the pictures the media showed was one of an ARVN soldier shooting a VC prisoner at pointblank range in the head. Because of all the negative publicity, Westmoreland, or Waste-more-land as many protesters called him, could not get recruits. At about 3:00 AM, marine guards woke up the U.S. ambassador in Saigon. Nineteen members of the elite Vietcong C-10 Sapper Battalion were assaulting the embassy. The Sappers were trying to break into the embassy. But, when they finally got the gates destroyed, they received incoming automatic weapon fire from within the embassy. The Sappers were forced to take cover in an unfinished building. An exchange of fire lasted for two days there. Finally, at the end of the two-day battle all nineteen were either killed or captured. The quickly ended break-in at the U.S. embassy was actually one of the smallest actions during the overall Tet Offensive. There were attacks all over the country at specific targets, such as Tan Son Nhut airbase and Independence Palace. Thieu had no choice but to declare martial law. Giap didn t seem to plan his troops positioning well enough. His troops were far too much spread apart. He needed to bring them closer. Instead, Giap left them as they were and lost at many different locations because of this. The day after martial law was declared, Gen. Westmoreland showed signs of confidence and noted that 5,800 communists were already killed. He also said that soon the enemy would back out and lose steam. Every action, battle, and operation in the Tet Offensive helped to end the Vietnam War. For the most part, U.S. and ARVN forces won many stunning victories over the communists. Giap had made many mistakes during the war. He waited too long to issue attack orders on many different occasions. Giap also spread his troops too thinly across such a large expansion of land. In doing this, Giap violated the cardinal principle of military strategy–concentration of force. Finally, Giap was terribly wrong in thinking that South Vietnamese would revolt against their government. The Southerners just got stronger. A sad point is that the reality of a fantastic victory for the U.S. and ARVN forces had not reached the U.S. The media also didn t tell how the communists plans fail disastrously. The government was trying to convey the news of American wins in Vietnam, but it was impossible to get that message through while the media was saying the opposite. One might conclude that the 1968 Tet Offensive was not truly a surprise attack because the U.S. had so much evidence that it was approaching. But, officials really couldn t imagine such a large-scale attack from such an organization. The VC did not have the manpower or the technology to pull off such a strike. The attack did however strike below America s belt . The VC readily agreed to a cease-fire over the Tet holidays, and then attacked the allied forces when they agreed that they wouldn t. This is what sparked such hatred. Distrust was formed between the allies and the VC forces. The Tet Offensive of 1968 not only served as a huge win for the allies, but also served as a historical event, and ended one of the bloodiest wars the world has ever known.